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England kept at bay by Smith's stunning century

Pressure ton: Australia’s Steve Smith celebrates his century
Pressure ton: Australia’s Steve Smith celebrates his century
Stuart Broad after taking wicket of Tim Paine

By Rory Dollard

Steve Smith stared down a depleted England attack and a hostile Edgbaston crowd as his superb century single-handedly rescued Australia on the opening day of the 2019 Ashes.

The first Specsavers Test would have kicked off with England seemingly well in the box seat had Smith not hit a brilliant 144, more than half of his team's 284 all out and a distant dream after they limped to 122 for eight.

Sixteen months after watching their careers collapse in disgrace following the sandpaper scandal, Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all returned to boos, jeers and brickbats from the notoriously raucous Birmingham crowd, but while the latter pair faltered, Smith flourished.

England had one hand tied behind their back from the moment record wicket-taker James Anderson was struck down by a right calf injury that restricted him to one four-over spell, and he faces an uncertain future in the match and the series.

But in his absence Stuart Broad stood tall, claiming five for 86 to reach 100 Ashes scalps, while Chris Woakes added three for 58.

Both hauls would have been prettier still had Smith not coaxed stands worth 162 out of tailenders Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon.

Joy, relief and bloodymindedness were etched across Smith's face as he celebrated his 24th Test hundred, and a ninth against England, before he cut loose late in the day to punish a tiring attack.

"It was frustrating in the end. I think we bowled fantastically well, but that partnership between Siddle and Smith was frustrating that we couldn't break it earlier," lamented England's Jos Buttler.

"I thought we bowled fantastically well this morning, going a bowler down was tricky for the guys to keep going.

"But it was an exceptional innings from Smith.

"It is very tough. He played a fantastic innings.

"Do you put everyone back and suck it up? You have got to try and find a way of keeping the dismissal in the game as well. But we never quite got enough balls at numbers 10 and 11 at one go."

After Smith was finally toppled by Broad, Rory Burns and Jason Roy were left to face two awkward overs at the close but held their nerve to reach 10 without loss.

There was an element of pantomime after Australia won the toss and opted to bat, Warner and Bancroft walking to the crease to a predictable volley, plus a chorus of "cheats, cheats, cheats".

Warner almost gave his detractors the ultimate satisfaction of a golden duck when he nicked Broad's loosener down leg, but the seamer's appeal fell on deaf ears.

Joe Root's failure to review ended up costing England only two runs, however, Broad snapping up the first wicket of the series in his second over.

Rapped on the pad by a fast, full delivery from round the wicket, Warner wrongly declined to query the lbw and trudged off as England fans sang "cheerio" and waved squares of sandpaper.

Broad struck again, pushing Bancroft deep in the crease with a series of yorker-length deliveries then clipping the outside edge with a leg-cutter.

Bancroft crossed with the incoming Smith, inviting the loudest reactions yet, egged on by Broad.

The seamer beat Smith's outside edge three times on nought but while he hung on, Usman Khawaja could not, nicking Woakes behind.

Smith and Travis Head came together at 35 for three and added 64 before Woakes had the latter leg before, kicking off a sequence of five wickets for 23 runs.

The wicket England really wanted was Smith but barring one ill-judged leave to a seaming delivery from Broad on 34 - given out but reprieved by the third umpire - he reeled in a secure half-century. Moeen Ali was the man to finally remove Siddle, after more than 23 overs, with Buttler taking a sharp bat-pad catch under the helmet.

Lyon's arrival saw Smith cut loose. There were two sixes, off Moeen and Broad, but it was the cover drive for four which meant the most, taking him to three figures.

His fun continued until Broad bowled him late in the day.

Belfast Telegraph


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